How did the events of September 11, 2001 change America's relationship to the world? Provide details on what occurred, arguments for the reason of the event, who were the perpertrators, and what...

How did the events of September 11, 2001 change America's relationship to the world? Provide details on what occurred, arguments for the reason of the event, who were the perpertrators, and what were the objectives?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On August 2, 1990, the brutal, aggressive regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied the neighboring Emirate of Kuwait over longstanding disputes regarding oil fields and the legitimacy of official borders dividing the nations of the Persian Gulf.  A young, wealthy son of a prominent Saudi construction magnate named Usama bin Laden who had earlier responded to the plight of Afghanistan’s Islamic warriors against the Soviet Union’s invasion of that country, approached Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite with the proposal that he would organize a purely Islamic fighting force to combat Iraq’s troops.  The kingdom declined his offer and accepted, instead, a massive infusion of American, British and other Western and Islamic militaries to use their land as a base of operations from which to liberate Kuwait.  To bin Laden, this constituted heresy, as his native Saudi Arabia (the family’s roots actually lie in Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, but the family patriarch relocated to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he raised his sons and daughters) is home to Islam’s two holiest sites, the Grand Mosques in Mecca and Medina, and, to many Islamists, no non-Islamic presence is welcome anywhere near those closely-guarded and highly-revered sites.  That the kingdom would not only accept non-Muslim armies on its territory, but would continue to allow non-Muslim expatriates and workers in its cities and oil-producing regions was, to bin Laden, an extremely serious affront to Allah – an affront that had to be countered. 

The United States has a long history in the Middle East, going back to Thomas Jefferson’s dispatch of the U.S. Navy to combat the Barbary Pirates operating off the northern coast of Africa.  It has military-to-military relationships throughout the region, and its Fifth Fleet is headquartered on the Persian Gulf island of Bahrain.  In short, America’s is a major presence throughout the region, and bin Laden and his growing network of followers in al Qaeda (“The Base”) were determined to rid Muslim lands of that presence.  In a well-known declaration of war against the United States and its allies, on August 23, 1996, bin Laden issues what he called his “Fatwa” against “the Crusaders and Zionists,” stating the following:

“It should not be hidden from you that the people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance and their collaborators; to the extent that the Muslims blood became the cheapest and their wealth as loot in the hands of the enemies. . .All of this and the world watch and hear, and not only didn’t respond to these atrocities, but also with a clear conspiracy between the USA and its’ allies and under the cover of the iniquitous United Nations, the dispossessed people were even prevented from obtaining arms to defend themselves. . .

“Our Lord, shatter their gathering, divide them among themselves, shaken the earth under their feet and give us control over them; Our Lord, we take refuge in you from their deeds and take you as a shield between us and them. . .

“Our Lord, show us a black day in them!”

Bin Laden would prove true to his word.  On August 7, 1998, simultaneous suicide truck bomb attacks were carried out against the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in East Africa, killing 258 and wounding another 5,000, mostly Kenyan and Tanzanian citizens.  The U.S. responded with cruise missiles against suspected al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan believed owned by bin Laden and suspected of being used to develop chemical weapons.  The war between al Qaeda was on, and the bloodshed would continue.  On October 12, 2000, a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, was bombed while refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 American sailors and wounding another 39. 

While al Qaeda was carrying out these and other terrorist operations against the U.S., its senior personnel, especially Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, were busy planning the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. that would occur with devastating effect on September 11, 2001.  The objectives of these attacks were to weaken the U.S economically by striking at the heart of the American economy – Wall Street and the World Trade Center – weaken the U.S. politically by targeting the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol building or the White House (the exact destination of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania after the passengers revolted against the al Qaeda hijackers who had commandeered the aircraft, as they did the planes that hit the Pentagon and that destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, is unknown, but is believed to have been headed for the U.S. Capitol, with some believing that the White House was the target), while compelling a U.S. withdrawal from all Muslim lands in the Middle East.

The attacks of 9/11 changed America fundamentally by removing the feeling of invulnerability with which most Americans lived, by emboldening many Americans to take up arms against al Qaeda (through enlisting in the Armed Services), and, most prominently, by acquiescing in the development of a surveillance state in which the U.S. Government would become an omniscient presence in our lives.  All of a sudden, fears of terrorist organizations armed with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons dominated public discourse across the country, with civilians hesitant to visit landmarks like memorials and shopping malls (especially the enormous and prominent Mall of America in Minnesota), and armed troops patrolling subway systems while Air Force fighter jets patrolled our skies against repeat attacks.  In short, America’s sense of security was badly shaken, and the government responded with enormous foreign and domestic intelligence gathering operations intended to detect new terrorist attacks before they occurred.  Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act (officially, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001), which provided the government new and very invasive authorities to conduct such intelligence operations, the scope of which were allegedly seriously violated with revelations over the past few years of extensive domestic spying operations by the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense agency responsible for electronic eavesdropping on foreign nations. 

Internationally, U.S. foreign policy was radically transformed, with the newly-designated “Global War On Terror” becoming the new mantra.  In a major address before Congress and the nation on November 6, 2001, President George W. Bush declared to the world that "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” an effective proclamation against moral ambivalence but later seen as an excessively polarizing declaration of American intent.  American foreign policy took on a much more militant tone and the White House immediately authorized the U.S. military to bomb and invade Afghanistan to remove its Taliban regime and eliminate al Qaeda, neither goal of which enjoyed long-term success as the former survived to regroup and continues to threaten to dominate Afghanistan and the latter also survived albeit in a more diffuse and less centralized form.  Convinced that the removal of the aforementioned Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, which was believed to be continuing to build and conceal nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (“weapons of mass destruction”) and which had a long track record of supporting terrorist organizations (although its links to al Qaeda were limited and largely ineffectual), the Bush Administration made the fateful error of diverting precious military resources, mainly Special Operations Forces) from Afghanistan to the war in Iraq that was launched in March 2003.  And that, in brief, is how the United States responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.